Bodies for science. The display of human statues for educational purposes

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Francesca Monza
Silvia Iorio

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Abstract

Every time von Hagens’ plastinated bodies are exposed, they cause polemics, controversies and an inevitable echo in the media. It is not clear whether what raises greater scandal and ethical doubts is the exposure of real bodies, corpses for anatomical demonstration, or the fact that the Body Worlds Exhibition attracts crowds of visitors, resulting in huge financial revenues. Contextualized within the history of medicine, if it were only the display of “prepared” corpses to be called into question, the issue should not cause outcry, as we are merely in the presence of the latest technique, plastination, in the long evolution of medical and anatomical teaching. Such statues, created in anatomical cabinets, were used in the past as a compendium for courses of anatomical studies. The bodies were prepared using complex techniques, treated with great care and postured as if they were “alive” in order to make them more understandable and effective for teaching. A related theme - with important ethical implications - is how these bodies were made available to anatomical institutes. In Britain there was the very interesting case of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), father of utilitarianism: he donated his body for research purposes and display. This philosopher was ahead of his time not only regarding the display of bodies for scientific purposes, but also the formula for the donation of bodies to science, now the only really viable solution for the use of the human body in educational and scientific settings.

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